Thursday, 26 June 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2014)

Acoustic Recordings 1901-1924
Naxos Historical 8.112054 / ****1/2

Wonder what some of the great composers sounded like playing on the piano? Thanks to the advent of electrical sound recording early in the 20th century, we now know. This anthology brings together 24 performances recorded a century ago, in acoustic recordings which have a more natural feel and aural ambience than the mechanical and robotic piano-roll, a rival medium at the time. Camille Saint-Saëns was still agile and speedy at the age of 84 when he recorded his French Military March from Suite Algerienne. One will not get more authentic than Edvard Grieg in his Norwegian Bridal Procession and Peasant’s March, or Enrique Granados in an improvisation on El Pelele and Spanish Dance No.10.

Arthur Friedheim and Frederic Lamond, both students of Franz Liszt, can be heard in their master’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 and Gnomereigen (Dance of the Gnomes) respectively. Aleksander Michalowski and Raoul Koczalski provide the same service for Chopin, teacher of their teacher Karol Mikuli. Also interesting are Ilona Eibenschutz, pupil of Clara Schumann in Brahms’s Waltzes and Ballade (Op.118 No.3), and Alfred Grünfeld in his famous transcription of Johann Strauss’s Voices of Spring. All these reveal a free-wheeling and almost nonchalant pianism of a bygone era. The re-masterings here filter away most of the hiss, crackle and pop from the original sources and are hence make for more than tolerable listenable.  

Residentie Orkest Den Haag / Neeme Järvi
BIS 1679 / *****

From one of the world’s great flautists comes this flavoursome anthology of flute concertos and concertante works. The adjective “great” in the title probably just applies to Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto (1926), a work of remarkable eloquence in blending dissonance, lyricism and  Scandinavian folk elements. Israeli flautist Sharon Bezaly’s advocacy and virtuosity shines through most persuasively, with the music’s apparent spikiness being lent a smooth and silky veneer. German Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto (1908) and American Charles Griffes Poem (1918) are more approachable, as is Tchaikovsky’s virtually unknown Largo & Allegro (1863-64), originally for two flutes and strings.

French woman composer Cecile Chaminade is better remembered for her salon piano pieces but her Concertino (1902), a popular showpiece, has become a favourite of flute competitions. Francis Poulenc’s well-known Flute Sonata (1956-57) takes on an orchestral guise in Lennox Berkeley’s orchestration, and is a sumptuous listen. Listen out for the built-in encore, Finnish composer Kalevi Aho’s exciting transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee. Bezaly’s mercurial artistry knows few equals.

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